What is it about skilled touch that decreases distress for those living with dementia that can lead to behavioral symptoms? Common responses include decreased aches and pains; sensory stimulation resulting in increased body awareness; relaxation; aids sleep; decreased feelings of loneliness; uplifted mood.
The following is an excerpt from The Physiological and Psychological Effects of Slow-stroke Back Massage and Hand Massage on Relaxation in Older People (2010) Melodee Harris and Kathy C Richards, Journal of Clinical Nursing, 19, 917–926
“In recent years, the nursing profession used technology and pharmacology to relieve conditions such as pain, anxiety and insomnia that were once treated with massage. However, interest in massage has grown with the move to more holistic nursing. This review examines the physiological and psychological effects of slow-stroke back massage and hand massage on relaxation in older people and identifies effective protocols for massage in older people.
Outcomes on psychological indicators are consistent with strong physiological indicators for slow-stroke back massage on relaxation in older people. Statistically significant results and improvements for physiological and psychological indicators are associated with decreasing agitation and promoting relaxation using hand massage in older people. Stronger correlations were found between slow-stroke back massage and psychological responses in older people. The effects of massage for reducing anxiety and increasing relaxation were recurring themes suggesting that slow stroke back massage reduces psychological stress. The studies on hand massage reported a consistent reduction in verbal aggression and non-aggressive behaviour in persons with dementia.”
Hand massage and slow-stroke back massage are a part of the Compassionate Touch® program. Care-partners of all kinds can learn to use touch in a focused way to increase quality of life for those living with dementia.